Despite the outcry over Arizona's immigration-enforcement bill and mounting pressure from Hispanic groups, the lead immigration-reform advocate in the House, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, admitted yesterday that any immigration bill that includes a citizenship provision for the undocumented doesn't have the votes to pass. "We are 102 strong, we are 102 commitment, but we are insufficient," he said at a press conference yesterday. That's of course a far cry from the requisite majority in the 435-member House.
As depressing as it is, the dim prospects for immigration reform aren't surprising. Since the last push for reform in 2007 -- when the Senate actually passed a bill that included a citizenship provision -- the politics of immigration have turned sharply right, so much so that even many Democrats understand "reform" only to mean beefing up border security. Gutierrez said "there's still time" to pass a reform bill after the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings, but this seems like a quixotic goal. And with Republicans likely to take over one of the houses of Congress in the midterm elections, prospects for next year look dim as well. Of course the need isn't any less pressing.
If there's a silver lining, it's that anti-immigrant sentiment is giving this group a more cohesive sense of political awareness. In the past, immigrants from Latin Americans -- who account for the majority of the current migration wave -- have been politically heterodox and fractured. That is, neither have they been reliably Democratic nor have the interests of different Latin-American immigrant communities always aligned. Cuban immigrants, for instance, have tended to support Republicans more than Hispanics from other Latin-American countries and Latinos across the board helped push George W. Bush to victory by giving him 44 percent of their votes in 2004.
But the anti-immigrant push has served to unify and mobilize Hispanic voters, leading them to rethink their ties to Republicans and demand action from Democrats on immigration. The significance of this is not just that Latinos are reorienting themselves politically. The Arizona law and similar anti-immigrant measure have led many Latinos, who have historically had lower levels of political participation than other minority groups, to voice their opinions -- on the streets, to their representatives, and in the pages of Latino papers -- on an issue that affects them directly.
-- Gabriel Arana